"An Ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who may possibly prescribe corrective lenses but has a primary focus of did eases of the eye treated both medically and surgically. An Optometrist does not have a degree from a medical school or residency in ophthalmology but rather a degree in optometry. The focus is on corrective optics and in some states the treatment of a few medical conditions. An Optician prepares corrective lenses and mounts them in frames. Sometimes you find all in one high end practice with prices to match, but you are obviously paying a premium for the setting."
1. The Fashion Store: If money is no object, and you just have to have the latest cutting edge eye-wear, there are places like this in most major cities that have all the latest "must have" eye-wear, at fairly high prices. On the plus side, they sell quality merchandise that is from high-end designers. And they have a staggering selection of sizes, shapes, and frame and temple sizes. You get exactly what you want, but you pay for it, of course.2. The Chain Stores: Like Lenscrafters and Empire Vision, these stores are corporate chains. They would like you to think they are the fashion store above, and charge accordingly, but in reality, their selection is not nearly as good as the fashion stores. And their prices are no real bargains, either.3. The Discount Stores: Wholesale Clubs and Wal-Mart have vision centers that sell glasses remarkably cheaply and also publish their prices up front. Their prices are far less than the chain and fashion stores, and oftentimes they have some of the same merchandise. If you are looking for a basic pair of RayBan sunglasses, all three types of stores will have these, but the discount stores will sell them to you, in prescription form, for as little as $150 or so, less than half the cost of the Chain Stores. Discount stores have a good selection, probably better than some Chain stores, but don't expect the fashions to be cutting edge.
UPDATE JUNE 2014: BJ's has gotten more expensive and they are playing the Optician game of offering $99 glasses that end up costing $250, once you are done. So we will start looking elsewhere. Online is one source, and even Blue Cross offers hints on places to order glasses online. Some online sources advertise bifocals for as little as $50 a pair, and while I am skeptical, it can't hurt to order a pair as a "spare" and if they are nice, use them.
One thing the Optician at BJ's did teach me was how to clean my glasses correctly. Plastic lenses can scratch easily if you wipe them on a shirtsleeve or dry-wipe them with a cloth. Spray the lenses with a lens cleaning solution and use clean fingers to wipe the solution to work loose oils and dirt. Use a lens cleaning cloth or tissue to BLOT the solution away, wiping lightly only if needed. Grinding your lenses dry with a shirtsleeve will scratch them. They did replace one set of scratched lenses, free, under warranty.
Thanks to Dr. Duncan for the technical correction above, and these comments:
"As you know standard corrective lenses and frames are high profit margin items, or in old terms - rip offs. It used to anger me when older people came to my office sporting new glasses that they had paid $400-$500 for. With a little Internet sleuthing I discovered a source for rimless glasses with progressive lenses costing about $70 each if bought in sets of three. These would easily be a total of $1,500 or more here in most any setting. They are light weight, unobtrusive, and serve perfectly the purpose intended. myeyeglasses.net They get panned in reviews but I think from my experience with them that the reviews are not from real customers but rather angry competitors.
Another peeve is hearing aids. Imagine a a frequency sensitivity programmable aid costing $7,000 a pair when iPhones come free with 2 year service contracts. The electronics are not particularly complex, and are just potted in plastic molded to conform to your ear. Good grief you can get a 47" LED TV at BJ's for under $700. Hearing aids are a market that is ripe for some entrepreneur to tap with a quality product at an aggressively low price. In truth the programmable frequency sensitivity is of marginal value."
Well, I don't need hearing aids just yet, but soon, and yes, they are a racket. Why? "Medicare Pays" I believe, so they don't need to control costs.
Again, the price of an item is not based on the cost of production, but based on what the market will bear. People perceive eyeglasses and hearing aids as expensive, so they pay a lot for them!